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Increasing interest in real-world evidence has fueled the development of study designs incorporating real-world data (RWD). Using the Causal Roadmap, we specify three designs to evaluate the difference in risk of major adverse cardiovascular events (MACE) with oral semaglutide versus standard-of-care: (1) the actual sequence of non-inferiority and superiority randomized controlled trials (RCTs), (2) a single RCT, and (3) a hybrid randomized-external data study.
The hybrid design considers integration of the PIONEER 6 RCT with RWD controls using the experiment-selector cross-validated targeted maximum likelihood estimator. We evaluate 95% confidence interval coverage, power, and average patient time during which participants would be precluded from receiving a glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonist (GLP1-RA) for each design using simulations. Finally, we estimate the effect of oral semaglutide on MACE for the hybrid PIONEER 6-RWD analysis.
In simulations, Designs 1 and 2 performed similarly. The tradeoff between decreased coverage and patient time without the possibility of a GLP1-RA for Designs 1 and 3 depended on the simulated bias. In real data analysis using Design 3, external controls were integrated in 84% of cross-validation folds, resulting in an estimated risk difference of –1.53%-points (95% CI –2.75%-points to –0.30%-points).
The Causal Roadmap helps investigators to minimize potential bias in studies using RWD and to quantify tradeoffs between study designs. The simulation results help to interpret the level of evidence provided by the real data analysis in support of the superiority of oral semaglutide versus standard-of-care for cardiovascular risk reduction.
Increasing emphasis on the use of real-world evidence (RWE) to support clinical policy and regulatory decision-making has led to a proliferation of guidance, advice, and frameworks from regulatory agencies, academia, professional societies, and industry. A broad spectrum of studies use real-world data (RWD) to produce RWE, ranging from randomized trials with outcomes assessed using RWD to fully observational studies. Yet, many proposals for generating RWE lack sufficient detail, and many analyses of RWD suffer from implausible assumptions, other methodological flaws, or inappropriate interpretations. The Causal Roadmap is an explicit, itemized, iterative process that guides investigators to prespecify study design and analysis plans; it addresses a wide range of guidance within a single framework. By supporting the transparent evaluation of causal assumptions and facilitating objective comparisons of design and analysis choices based on prespecified criteria, the Roadmap can help investigators to evaluate the quality of evidence that a given study is likely to produce, specify a study to generate high-quality RWE, and communicate effectively with regulatory agencies and other stakeholders. This paper aims to disseminate and extend the Causal Roadmap framework for use by clinical and translational researchers; three companion papers demonstrate applications of the Causal Roadmap for specific use cases.
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